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Paula Deen: Good or Bad for Diabetes?

The food world — not to mention the medical community — was abuzz after Southern chef Paula Deen announced she has Type 2 diabetes.

“I really sat on this information for a few years because I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, what am I going to do about this? Is my life fixing to change? Am I no longer going to like my life?” she asked rhetorically on NBC’s Today Show.

The fact that she kept the diagnosis secret for several years makes some think she’s a fraud. Others applaud her courage for making such a personal issue public.

From this industry observer’s perspective, it’s a boon for both diabetes awareness and her. It’s just like the new “Diabetes in a New Light.” advertising campaign she’s running with drug maker Novo Nordisk. Paula will have to change, and her fans will have to take note. Will she honestly ever be able to face an audience again and dump butter and cream into the pan, without talking about moderation, or healthier ingredients or her medical condition?

It’s well-documented that America’s obesity epidemic is one of the biggest (no pun intended) contributors to our concurrent diabetes problem. The two go hand in hand. That’s what made Paul Deen’s cooking somewhat laughable, and always indulgent. Common sense dictates that her style of down-home cooking is nostalgic. We used to eat like that, but now we know better.

At least we’re supposed to. Another report out this week hints that obesity rates in the U.S. may have peaked. That indicates we are getting the message. The government’s “Let’s Move” campaign, nutrition ratings in supermarkets, menu labeling in restaurants, food stamps at farmers’ markets, more healthful school lunches — these are all starting to have an impact.

Paula Deen puts a face on that tipping point — more than Dr. Oz or First lady Michelle Obama. Paula professes not to know how she became diabetic, but we know. And it’s the same reason as a majority of the Type 2 diabetics alive today. That’s what makes her story so compelling. We can identify with her reluctance to go public and to delve into the reasons. Being diagnosed with diabetes is devastating, intimidating and bewildering. Critics also add “financially damaging” since her recipes directly contradict healthful eating.

One suspects that the majority of those critics are not diabetic themselves. Their comments lack sensitivity and border on malicious.

Those who suffer from diabetes have gained a potential new champion. Let’s hope Paula is up to the task, indeed, that she actually embraces this “new light.”

“You can have diabetes and have a piece of cake,” she said on the Today Show. “You cannot have diabetes and eat a whole cake.”

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